Kelly Aramaki, an award-winning educator and longtime area teacher and administrator, was named the next superintendent of the Bellevue School District on Thursday.
Aramaki got his start teaching fourth and fifth graders at Bellevue’s Newport Heights Elementary in 1999, and he has served as the district’s assistant superintendent of strategic initiatives, student services and staff engagement since July. Before that, he was the district’s executive director of elementary schools.
Aramaki, 47, said he’ll be approaching his new role not only as a resident but also as a parent.
The incoming superintendent said he “deeply empathizes” with families who have watched their children navigate the pandemic and the subsequent isolation, health and wellness challenges it caused.
“I see how every decision that we make in the school district, every effort that we take, is so impactful on our kids,” Aramaki said Thursday.
Aramaki has received multiple awards for his leadership in diversity and public education, including a 2010 Milken Educator Award received while he was the principal of John Stanford International School in Seattle’s Wallingford neighborhood. He was the 2013 Washington State Elementary Principal of the Year while principal of Beacon Hill International School in Seattle, and he was named a Northwest Asian Weekly Visionary that same year.
Asian American students make up the largest percentage of Bellevue’s enrollment, at nearly 44%, and Aramaki will be the district’s first permanent Asian American superintendent. He credits Eva Collins, the district’s deputy superintendent, as a trailblazer for previously holding this distinction as an interim district superintendent.
The district has 18,409 students. White students make up 27% of the enrollment, and Hispanic students 14%. Some 103 languages are spoken across the district’s students, staff and families, with 43% of students speaking a first language other than English.
In conducting a national search for its next superintendent, the district sought a leader who “has a deep understanding of classroom instruction, educational systems, and youth,” has “improved operational and academic systems in a complex organization” and embodies “strength, convictions, fortitude, and the courage to stand up for doing what’s right in the face of adversity.”
A search group narrowed a pool of 30 candidates to five semifinalists, then three finalists and an alternate. Aramaki was one of two finalists interviewed; a third withdrew after accepting a position elsewhere. The district offered Aramaki the job Jan. 19, and he’s slated to officially take the reins from interim Superintendent Art Jarvis on July 1. Aramaki will earn $334,000 to start. Jarvis came on after Ivan Duran left the post to become superintendent of Highline Public Schools in 2021.
Jarvis will continue to take the lead this school year on the hot-button issue of consolidating elementary schools caused by declining enrollments. But Aramaki said he’s preparing to be part of the conversation “as soon as I possibly can.”
During his interviews with the district, Aramaki said he also heard students’ concerns, ranging from workload to teacher quality. “It became crystal clear to me that they are concerned about their own mental health and the mental health of their friends and the amount of stress that’s on kids,” he said.
He’s also interested in addressing budgeting issues and repairing relationships between district leaders, staff, students and families.
In a written statement, Bellevue School Board President Sima Sarrafan lauded Aramaki for his “exceptional breadth of experience” in education and knowledge of the region.
Aramaki is the son of a Japanese father and Korean mother. He and his wife, Reiko, and their daughter, Hannah, an Interlake High School freshman, live in Bellevue. His family has a collective 123-year legacy, spanning five generations, in the Bellevue community, dating back to 1900, when his great-grandfather emigrated here from Japan.
Aramaki graduated from Newport High School in 1993 and attended the University of Washington, where he earned a bachelor’s in zoology and a doctorate in educational leadership and policy studies. He also earned a master of arts in teaching from Columbia University, with an emphasis on early childhood and the inclusion of students with special needs in the general education classroom setting.
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